Muslims, in Concert with Jews, Perform Acts of Kindness on Christmas Holiday

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Adapted from an Associated Press article by TMO

Detroit–December 25–Many Jews consider Christmas Day an opportunity to serve their community while Christian neighbors celebrate their holiday. This year, what’s also known as Mitzvah Day in southeast Michigan is getting an added boost from Muslims.

For the first time, about 40 Muslims joined 900 Jews for what they call their largest annual day of volunteering. Leaders say it’s a small but significant step in defusing tensions and promoting good will between the religions — particularly on a day that is sacred to Christianity, the third Abrahamic faith.

Mitzvah Day, a nearly 20-year tradition in the Detroit area also practiced in other communities, is so named because Mitzvah means “commandment” in Hebrew and is colloquially translated as a good deed.

The new partnership stemmed from a recent meeting between members of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit — which said it was unaware of any similar Mitzvah Day alliances.

The Jewish groups organize Mitzvah Day, which consists of volunteers helping 48 local social service agencies with tasks such as feeding the hungry and delivering toys to children in need.

Victor Begg, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, said he was seeking a public way for the two faith communities to “build bridges of understanding and cooperation,” which led to joining the Mitzvah Day effort.

“These guys are really organized,” he explained to TMO, saying really there was no need for Muslim organizations to try to put together their own event when the event has already been sustained over a long period of time by the Jewish organizations.

“The general public is what we need to give the message to, our entire community,” he said.

Not only are most Muslims and Jews available to serve on Christmas Day, but leaders also recognized a shared commitment to community service. Charity in Judaism is known as “tzedakah.” Actually this Hebrew word is pronounced the same as sadaqa, which is an analogous Islamic term of doing charity.

“It’s an interesting parallel,” said Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “Both of our faiths predispose us to engaging in this sort of thing.”

Muslim and Jewish volunteers will work together at the Gleaners Community Food Bank in Pontiac, about 25 miles north of Detroit.

“We felt it was a perfect activity for people to be getting together like this because you work side by side with one or two other people as you’re moving the boxes,” Cohen said. “The grass-roots connection builds relationships on a personal level.”

Cohen said the local bonds are important given global animosities. He said Muslims and Jews here “have serious differences about what happens in the Middle East,” but that shouldn’t be the only dynamic defining their relationship.

Begg added the two faiths can set an example in the Detroit area, which has historically large Jewish and Muslim populations.

“Whatever happens in the Middle East, we have no control over it,” Begg said. “But here, our kids go to the same school, we work together. … We need to focus on building an inclusive community.”

Mitzvah Day is planned months in advance, so the number of Muslim participants is modest to start, but both groups expect it will grow. Next year proves challenging for Jewish volunteers because Christmas falls on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Details have yet to be worked out, though Cohen and others are considering moving Mitzvah Day. That would give Muslims the opportunity to try a solo run on Christmas, join Jewish groups on another day, or both.

Both Mr. Begg and Mitzvah Day organizers explained that next year it will be impossible for the Jewish organizations to do Mitzvah Day on Christmas Day because it falls on their Sabbath, Saturday, therefore 2010 might be an opportunity for CIOM and area mosques to do a similar event on their own.

The Muslim volunteers this year came mainly from two mosques, the Islamic Center of America, whose Eide Alawan has for decades been involved in community and interfaith outreach work, and Canton’s MCWS mosque, from which about 20 volunteers came.

“The bottom line is we really want to do it together,” Begg said.

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Muslims and Jews Volunteer Together in Southeast Michigan

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Adapted by TMO Stringer from Press Release

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM) is coordinating with Detroit’s Jewish community this holiday season in a “Mitzvah Day” of doing good deeds on December 25. 

Mitzvah Day, explains CIOM Chairman Ghalib Begg, is “very organized” so CIOM chose to join hands with the Jewish community rather than setting up a competing venture to do good works during Christmas. 

Mr. Begg explained to TMO that there has been a miraculous level of commitment by Muslims, explaining that already 50 Muslims have volunteered to participate, including 20 from the MCWS mosque and many from the Ford Road ICA in Dearborn as well.

Mitzvah Day is presented to the community by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. 

“Make someone happy” is the theme for Mitzvah Day 2009, where as many as 900 Jewish volunteers — joined for the first time with Muslim volunteers — are expected to take part in “mitzvahs” (good deeds), aiding 48 Detroit area social service agencies on Christmas Day.  Many grandparents, parents and children will volunteer together as families, in the spirit of giving back to the community.  This Mitzvah Day participants will also take part in a non-perishable food drive, bringing donations with them as they report to volunteer duty on December 25.  The event chairs are Micki Grossman and Stephanie Rosenbaum.

Volunteers will begin their day at the Jimmy Prentis Morris Jewish Community Center on the A. Alfred Taubman Campus, located at 15110 10 Mile Rd. in Oak Park.   Following a light breakfast and brief orientation, they will depart for their volunteer projects.  The teams will fan out to 74 pre-assigned volunteer sites throughout metro Detroit.  Project times vary, but they run between 6:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  Families with children, as well as teens, young adults and seniors, will donate a few hours of their time to participate in a variety of activities, including visits to older adults in nursing care facilities, preparing and serving holiday meals, and delivering toys and gifts to families in need.

For more information about Mitzvah Day, call the Jewish Community Relations Council, 248-642-5393. or Ghalib Begg at (586) 808-2864.

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